Friday, September 20, 2013

September 20, 1959 - Lee Petty Hauls in Hillsboro

September 20, 1959: Starting seventh in his #42 Plymouth, Lee Petty wins a 100-mile, 110-lap race on the .9 mile dirt Orange Speedway in Hillsboro, NC. Richard helped make it a good time for the Level Cross team with a third place finish in his #43 Plymouth (albeit with a wounded car).

Lee finished one lap ahead of second place Cotton Owens. Junior Johnson was originally flagged as the third place finisher but was subsequently disqualified to 22nd and last place. Richard, who limped home on a bum rear axle, was elevated from 4th to 3rd.

Jack Smith and (future) King Richard started on the front row. Junior Johnson arrived to the track late, and he had to start out back in the 22-car field. NASCAR would later reunite him with his starting spot in the race's final, official rundown.

The Pettys went on a pretty good hot streak winning three in a row at the central North Carolina speedway about 70 miles east of Winston-Salem and about 40 miles north of Raleigh.
Perry Allen Wood vividly recaps the race in his book, Silent Speedways of the Carolinas:
The second visit of 1959 was September 20, the day after Khrushchev was barred from Disneyland. Twenty-two speed merchants appeared at Fantasyland on the Eno for 110 laps, with Jack Smith putting a Chevy on the pole. He rocketed away for the first 50 laps until an axle snapped and Tiger Tom [Pistone] put his tired, but twice-victorious T-Bird 59 on the point. Junior Johnson...was late arriving, starting at the rear. However, he screamed through the field from 22nd and was challenging for first when he was taken out in a crash... Johnson got the goat going again and soldiered on. With 21 left, Pistone broke a spindle and Papa Lee got his 38th career win by a lap over Cotton [Owen's] 1959 T-Bird. Third was Richard Petty despite retiring with a broken axle. ~ p. 111
Source: Spartanburg Herald-Journal via Google News Archive
Note the final paragraph of the race report article - especially if you have a hand in promoting races or know someone who does. What a cool event that must have been to watch - a match race of father-son teams of Lee and Richard Petty vs. Buck and Buddy Baker. Imagine the fun that fans could experience if track promoters still had such ideas: Kurt vs. Kyle Busch, Gibbs teams vs. Roush cars, Darrell and Michael Waltrip vs. Terry and Bobby Labonte, etc.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

September 14, 1952 - Lee Petty Lassos Langhorne

September 14, 1952: Starting deep in the field, Lee Petty wins at the famed but treacherous one-mile, dirt Langhorne Speedway in Pennsylvania.

Herb Thomas started from the pole position for the 250 lap race, but he never led a lap. He crashed, completed 61 laps, and finished 37th in the 44-car field. Fonty Flock qualified second and led 50 laps, but he too exited early. A blown motor relegated Fonty to a 26th place finish. 

Bill Blair and Dick Rathman each led a sizeable chunk of laps. Blair was on point 89 laps and finished second to Petty. Rathman had a solid race - just not a great one. He qualified eighth, led 61 laps, and finished fifth. With 41 laps to go, however, Petty took over the lead and kept it the rest of the way. After starting 24th, the driver of the #42 Plymouth worked his way to the front and led the laps that mattered.

Many race fans today (myself included) often long for a return to racing like in the good ol' days. Interesting how we all often overlook the bad ol' days that accompanied the good times. In his book, Real NASCAR: White Lightning, Red Clay, and Big Bill France, Daniel Pierce noted:
One of the major problems encountered by NASCAR in the early 1950s was that, despite some improvements in safety, stock car racing continued to be a dangerous and even deadly pastime. A basic design flaw in the Hudsons made them especially prone to end-over-end rollovers. As Smokey Yunick observed, the "Hudson's rear quarter panels were deep and strong and the rear axle shafts were weak by racing standards. So when the axle broke, rear wheel was loose, but trapped in this strong wheel housing. This cause the Hudson to bounce ass-over-head violently." This type of rollover caused Jesse James Taylor serious head injuries when his Hudson flipped in the first turn on a 1951 race at Lakewood Speedway. It took rescue workers fifteen minutes to extricate him from the wreckage... Similar Hudson axle failures led to the deaths of drivers Larry Mann at Langhorne and Frank at Luftoe at Lakewood, both in 1952... The state of emergency medical care at the track did not help the situation much either, as Smokey Yunick noted "Back then, a local doctor with a bag and an ambulance or a hearse, or maybe just a fire truck was all we had." ~ pp. 145-146
As noted, Larry Mann crashed his Hudson during the 1952 Langhorne race. He suffered significant trauma and head injuries in the wreck and passed away in a Nazareth, PA hospital later that evening. Mann's death was the first fatality in NASCAR's young Grand National series. Eerily, he drove car number 43.

Source: Milwaukee Journal via Google News Archive


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September 11, 1959 - Lee Petty Wins At Hickory


... and Never Forget. Ever.

September 11, 1959: Starting 13th in a 14-car field, Lee Petty rallies to win the Buddy Shuman 250 on the .4-mile, dirt Hickory Speedway in North Carolina.

Even though Richard Petty had begun his driving career, he did not enter the Hickory event. And with no convertible series race scheduled the same day, its likely Richard was in his usual place - helping pit his dad's car.

Source: Spartanburg Herald Journal via Google News Archive
For reasons unknown to me, starting positions were drawn rather then determined by qualifying. In researching Hickory's weather history, it doesn't seem any rain fell to disrupt and delay things. Also, no NASCAR races were scheduled the day before or after the Hickory race. But something likely cancelled qualifying and delayed the race because no newspaper article could be found for the race. My hunch is the race started and ended late - after the filing deadline for any articles that could have been published in the Saturday, September 12 editions.

Greg Fielden writes in Forty Years of Stock Car Racing - Volume 2:
Lee Petty took the lead when suspension troubles sidetracked Jack Smith and won the 100-mile race at Hickory Speedway. It was Petty's eighth win of the 1959 season.

Jack Smith had gotten around early leader Junior Johnson and was setting the pace when a lower A-frame broke on his Chevrolet. Petty's Plymouth took charge and beat runner-up Buck Baker by more than one lap. Rex White finished third. Johnson was fourth and Brownie King fifth.

Since no time trials were  held, Petty had to come from 13th starting spot in the slim 14-car field. R.L. Combs won the pole position in a blind draw, with Johnson starting second. Johnson, driving the Wood Brothers Ford, led in the early going before dropping off the pace.

Petty averaged 63.380 mph for his 45th career win. ~ pp. 43-44
Starting seventh and finishing ninth was Fuzzy Clifton. Fuzzy made his one and only career Grand National start in this race. He ran several modified and sportsman races throughout the 1950s. But with a nickname like Fuzzy, its a shame he didn't get to run more in the top-level series.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

September 8, 1957 - Lee Petty Aces Asheville-Weaverville

September 8, 1957: Starting 2nd in his #42 Oldsmobile, Lee Petty leads 46 of 200 laps and wins the 100-mile race on the half-mile, asphalt Asheville-Weaverville Speedway.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Cotton Owens started fourth and was the stud of the show. He led 131 laps, but he crashed and finished 16th in the 20-car field. Another NASCAR HOFer, Buck Baker, qualified third and finished second. Baker later raced in six races for Petty Enterprises in the first part of the 1964 season.

Retired Charlotte Observer motorsports writer, contributor and author Tom Higgins wrote about his memories of the 1957 A-W race.
On September 8, 1957, I covered the first race I ever saw, a 100-miler at Asheville-Weaverville Speedway. I arrived at the rustic track well before race time and, although nervous, decided to walk along the “garage area” behind the pit wall to introduce myself.

Among the first I met were Lee Petty and his sons, Richard and Maurice. Their cousin, Dale Inman, also was helping them work on Lee’s No. 42 blue Olds, which was to win the race.

Although busy, they took a minute or so to welcome me to the sport, destined to become our lives. I was struck by the friendliness of the Pettys, and others that day, including Rex White and Marvin Panch.

Who would have imagined back then that someday there would be a NASCAR Hall of Fame? And that with the election of Maurice, the first engine builder to be chosen, all four in the Petty quartet would be in it?

Read more here:
Perry Allen Wood succinctly summarized the race in Silent Speedways of the Carolinas:
Californian Bill Amick put his Ford on the pole and led the first nine laps before giving it up to Cotton [Owens] for 130. Owens was looking like a winner when a tire popped on lap 141 and he stuffed the Pontiac into the fence for the day's only caution. Amick, [Buck] Baker, and [Lee] Petty swapped the lead until the laps ran out and Lee and his Olds were leading ... The race took less than 90 minutes. ~ p. 221
Source: Lexington NC The Dispatch via Google News Archive
Though not related to the Asheville-Weaverville race, the article does reference another story with a Petty connection. A tragic one, yes - but an historical one nonetheless. A hat was passed at Greensboro's short track to collect a few dollars for the family of Bobby Myers. The father of long-time Dale Earnhardt crewman Danny 'Chocolate' Myers, Bobby Myers was killed six days earlier in a crash during the Southern 500 at Darlington while piloting a white #4 Petty Engineering Oldsmobile.

Final photo taken of Bobby Myers courtesy of Randy Myers
Three-wide racing from the jump begins around 11:45 of this video. Beginning around 14:45, Fonty Flock spins in turn 1. Myers tragically drilled Flock and flipped several times. Myers passed away a couple of hours after the accident at a local hospital. From its opening until today, Myers' death remains one of only two at Darlington. (The other was Buren Skeen in the 1965 Southern 500.)


Saturday, September 7, 2013

September 7, 1952 - Lee Whoops 'em in Macon

September 7, 1952: Starting 8th in his #42 Plymouth, Lee Petty passed Herb Thomas with 5 laps to go and claimed the win at Central City Speedway. The race was a pretty long one for that era - 300 laps, 150 miles  - on the half-mile dirt track in Macon, GA.

The track hosted seven NASCAR Grand National races. A single race was run in 1951, and two races were held each year from 1952 through 1954.

Greg Fielden recaps the race in his book, Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: Vol. 1:
Herb Thomas suffered a heart-breaking defeat as Lee Petty came home first in the 300 lap Grand National event at Central City Speedway.

Thomas had taken the lead from Tim Flock on the 255th lap ... and appeared to be on his way to victory when the left rear tire on his Hudson blew on lap 204. The Olivia, NC driver elected not to pit and stayed on the track in a game effort to stay ahead of Petty.

Petty drove his Plymouth into the lead with five laps remaining and was 14 seconds ahead of Thomas when the checkered flag fell.

Fonty Flock led the first 44 laps from the pole position, but a clogged fuel line put his Oldsmobile out of commission. Tim Flock took the lead at that point and led until lap 254 when the gas pedal on his Hudson worked its way loose.

Dick Passwater of Indianapolis qualified second and was running in the top five when the right front wheel came off his Olds. The wheel bounded into the stands, injuring one spectator.

Stan Parnell had a long evening, blowing six tires and flipping his Olds twice. He finally had to quit after 159 laps.  ~ pp. 95-96
For the record, Stan Parnell's Grand National career duration was: 1 race.

Source: Daytona Beach Morning Journal via Google News Archive